Everything You Need to Know About Micro-Influencers
Are micro-influencers right for your brand?
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When influencer marketing first emerged, the social media landscape was still highly personal. As late as 2015, Instagram had still not yet globally launched its ad platform, and the notion of “shoppable posts” was still just an idea. Influencers built audiences by posting not just about style, but about their families, friends, homes and everyday lives, which made them feel like peers. Followers could also comment directly on posts, and in many cases, influencers would respond. This “consumer to consumer” dynamic helped fuel the rapid growth and success of influencer marketing as brands recognized that the influence of these social leaders was higher than that of models or celebrities.
The rapid commercialization of social media over the past three years has brought both opportunities and challenges. Positively, the standardization of disclosure guidelines has meant a level playing field for brands and influencers who follow the rules. Brands also have better tools to encourage in-app conversions, such as the swipe-up feature on Instagram Stories. Negatively, commercialization has encouraged dishonest social media users to buy “fake” followers and authentic influencers to raise their rates. Many Instagram stars now have agents to negotiate lucrative contracts, pricing out emerging and mid-sized brands.
The silver lining, of course, has been the emergence of talented bloggers representing nearly every niche interest and demographic who are interested in working with brands. These micro-influencers — a term that burst into online conversations in 2016 — have since become an increasingly important part of driving influencer marketing ROI.
Micro-influencers revive the original peer-to-peer dynamic that made influencer marketing successful in the first place. They may not have the followers of their mega-influencer counterparts, but they do have results: influencers with between 10k and 100k Instagram followers see 50% more engagement than influencers with more than 1 million followers, and they have 22.2x more conversions than the average Instagram user. The number of followers and reach is just smaller.
With this promise of higher engagement rates at a fraction of the cost, micro-influencers have won over brands and editors alike, landing headlines from AdWeek, Forbes and even The New York Times. At Shopping Links, we have used micro-influencers to help brands successfully enter new markets, launch new products, and boost sales. For all the hype they have received, in many ways, micro-influencers are living up to expectations.
Nonetheless, micro-influencers are not without their challenges. For brands seeking broad awareness, or who have few internal resources to manage multiple relationships, micro-influencers may not be the best option. In this guide, we look at micro-influencers from all angles, examining the advantages and challenges, while exploring the strategies, best practices and use cases that maximize their value.
Defining a Micro-Influencer
Philosophically, a micro-influencer is any social media user who commands a niche audience in a specific market. For practical purposes, we define a micro-influencer as having between 10k and around 80k Instagram followers. Smaller influencers can also certainly be effective for many brands, but setting a lower limit of 10k allows you to take advantage of some of Instagram’s most impactful tools, including the swipe-up functionality of Instagram Stories. We use an upper limit of 80k because we have found this to be a turning point, where rates, engagement levels, and preferred collaboration types begin to change, requiring different strategies. Bek Halliday, above, is a great example. The Australian blogger has a highly engaged audience that attracts leading brands like Marks & Spencer.
Why Micro-Influencers Matter
Micro-influencers matter because they represent real customers; utilizing micro-influencers is the closest brands can get to word-of-mouth marketing. This is important because as much as consumers admire celebrities and social media stars, they look to their peers first for where to shop and what to wear. Micro-influencers feel more like friends than entertainment, which makes them adept at turning product recommendations and style choices into real consumer purchases. More than 100 million people follow Kim Kardashian, but a fraction of those are scrolling her feed to pick up style tips.
Micro-influencers also give brands a direct line to feedback from their target customers. By collaborating with influencers who are closely aligned with their own target demographic, brands have an opportunity to ask directly what matters to them, and ultimately ascertain what trends, causes, and marketing messages will inspire their core demographic.
Baby products retailer b.box is one brand that has leveraged this value particularly well by asking influencers what products they need and what will resonate most with their followers. Rather than simply sending the products they want to promote, they ask, “What products do you love? What do your followers love?” The power of these questions not only improves the content quality, but it also gives your product team valuable information about consumer trends and the potential demand for different types of products.
Another benefit of micro-influencers is that they allow you to reach multiple markets with a single campaign. Investing your total budget in a single influencer leaves you vulnerable to their reach, which as Instagram Insights show, may not equal their follower count, and the reactions of a single audience. The bigger the influencer, the less defined that audience is likely to be, so you also receive fewer insights into how well a particular market will perform. Engaging micro-influencers in multiple markets distributes the risk of any single influencer falling flat, while also allowing your brand to identify the biggest opportunities in terms of demographics and geographic area, which you can use in turn to run a deeper marketing campaign.
And finally, micro-influencers also give you a trove of high-quality branded content to use in your own marketing campaigns. Every paid Shopping Links collaboration includes the rights to license the content across digital, giving you ready-to-post imagery for social media, newsletters, and other digital campaigns. You can also negotiate directly with an influencer for broader use. Running multiple campaigns allows you to get more mileage out of each piece of content, creating an ongoing connection between your brand and the influencers your target consumers follow.
The Challenges of Micro-Influencer Marketing
Micro-influencers can make a significant impact by connecting you with the right audiences, increasing your engagement and maximizing your budget. This is where most articles about micro-influencers end, but micro-influencers have their downsides, too. Understanding the challenges and costs involved can help you approach this strategy with the right mindset.
The biggest challenge of using micro-influencers is the increased time, effort and product to achieve the same reach. Managing several influencers rather than one means multiple contracts, deadlines, and pieces of content to review. You’ll also need to ensure that you get correct delivery details for each influencer you gift. The best way to stay organized is to use an influencer marketing platform. Marketers who manage their influencers with a spreadsheet and email may find these tools inadequate as their rosters grow. A platform allows you to keep an accurate record of your timelines, content delivery, briefs, payment, and even blogger addresses, so you can manage more aspects of the process using less of your own team’s time.
Another challenge of working with micro-influencers is quickly identifying multiple influencers who align well with your brand, are interested in your collaboration, and for whom the timing works. This is another area where an influencer marketing platform can help. On Shopping Links, for example, you can post a single brief with your desired collaboration type, your preferred level of influence and your desired publish date to let interested influencers respond.
Our Product Seeding collaboration type makes this process even easier when you want to gift product at scale by allowing you to select 105 or 50 influencers with at least 10k Instagram followers, each of whom is interested in a gift-only collaboration. You also receive delivery details to make the logistics even easier. We will talk more about identifying the right micro-influencers in a moment.
Although influencer marketing platforms certainly make working with micro-influencers much more streamlined, eliminating many of the challenges that brands face when working with multiple bloggers, it’s also important to remember that micro-influencers will not be the best solution for every goal. When your goal is to achieve the greatest possible reach using the fewest possible resources, one or two large influencers will better suit that purpose. Likewise, the opportunity to share content featuring a specific, high-profile influencer in your own marketing efforts may pay greater dividends than reaching multiple audiences. Understanding when micro-influencers are not as effective as larger ones will help you make better decisions about how to use your resources. They will also help to reveal which demographics and geographies resonate the most with your product or service. This information provides valuable insight when selecting an influencer who has a larger audience.
How Do You Find the Right Micro-influencers?
As we’ve alluded to above, thanks to technology, finding the right niche influencers for your brand has become much easier. The opportunity to set parameters and select a desired level of influence, rather than chasing potential influencers one by one, has alone saved brands hours of their staff’s time, while giving them access to a far greater pool of talent. Our network includes more than 15,000 vetted bloggers representing 117 countries. Once an influencer has expressed interest in a collaboration, brands can then see detailed information about their content aesthetic, reach, impressions, engagement, and demographics.
We also encourage bloggers to connect their Google Analytics and Instagram Insights, which has fundamentally changed the way brands can select influencers. With Instagram Insights alone, brands can see an influencer’s actual reach, their follower demographics, impressions, and engagement. This kind of insight allows brands to ask the following questions when selecting a micro-influencer:
Does this influencer’s audience match my own? If you are looking to reach shoppers in the US, it won’t help if an influencer’s followers reside primarily in Europe. Likewise, if you are looking to reach female consumers, you won’t see results if your influencer’s followers are largely male.
How many followers are they actually reaching? Follower count does not always represent the number of people who will actually see a post. For those who might have bought followers or weren’t dedicated to growing a specific niche, their audiences may not be seeking out their content. If they’re relying on Instagram to organically distribute their content, their real versus potential reach can be quite different. Seeing the number of impressions is also a strong indicator of traffic and sales conversion, so taking these metrics into account when selecting an influencer is key.
Does this influencer’s audience engage? Although we have actually found that engagement does not necessarily indicate a successful collaboration (many followers will buy a product without double-tapping a post), but an influencer’s overall engagement for both sponsored and organic content is a good measure of how closely their followers watch for their posts and how likely that content is to be delivered to audiences outside the influencer’s followers. Higher engagement provides access to new and different audiences.
Is this influencer’s content in a style that matches my brand’s? This is another question that many brands fail to ask before selecting an influencer, but the reach is only one-half an influencer’s value. You also want to be able to use an influencer’s content for your own social channels, and you want to know that their aesthetic will match your own.
The Bottom Line
Micro-influencers have become an important component of an effective influencer marketing strategy for brands of all sizes. Not only do micro-influencers allow brands to reach more geographic locations and demographics with the same budget, but they’re also more likely to have stronger engagement rates and overall influence over their followers.
Managing multiple influencers at once is a challenge, but influencer marketing platforms have made it possible for brands to cultivate relationships at scale, both by automating much of the outreach process and by giving brands the tools to seamlessly keep track of their interactions, including payments. By utilizing technology to manage and scale your influencer relationships, and taking the time to understand and compare the data you collect from each micro-influencer campaign, you can make micro-influencers one of your most successful strategies.
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